Saturday, 29 February 2020 03:50

St. Dismas. Pray for Us

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Maybe it has been the recent Lenten season, but, for some reason, I don’t know why I’ve been contemplating the good thief. I believe his name was Dismas, St. Dismas. He’s a saint, I believe because he knows our Lord. He recognizes who He is and repents, even under the most difficult of circumstances. If I imagine myself in his place, taking his place upon his cross and making it mine, I am awestruck. What would my likely response be to Dismas’ very real cross? What if his cross was mine? 

The Catholic church does a good job of inviting us into a time and space I don’t like traveling into, i.e. Lent. It’s like looking into a mirror after a long night of sleeplessness or maybe evening carousing. I look pretty bad. That’s my ‘sin’ face in the mirror. But even though I don’t like this reality, I realize the wisdom of reflecting on my fallen nature. It’s a true and present reality that I cannot run away from. I believe our church calls it concupiscence, a disorder caused by our propensity to sin. 

During Lent, albeit at times uncomfortably, I reflect and find solace vis a vis my sin when contrasted to our Lord in the desert. To defeat my devilish thoughts and actions, I simply need to look to our Lord and how He does battle. Jesus is our teacher and role model. He fasts and prays to the Father while preparing for battle. All I need to do is ‘copy and paste’ His actions, albeit imperfectly.

Ironically, winning the battle against sin has nothing to do with my physical strength. Where the world values physical strength, Jesus’ actions are a statement, the truth on how to win, to master ourselves and thwart the devil. 

I must become dismantled, become weak. I choose to become physically weaker through mortification, maybe some fasting, so that God, the Father, can make me stronger. If I look at our Lord during His desert sojourn, including His fasting, His prayer, if I simply choose to replicate these actions, I win. As my body descends physically, my spirit ascends. When I become physically weaker, I experience a surrendering of self to the true power, which is God’s fortress for me, his agape love.  

In spirit, it is God who does the fighting. This is always a good thing, as God is God and all-powerful. For me, the weak sinner, this is a welcome, hopeful mystery for me to embrace. I want to win this battle and now I know how.

So, back to the good thief…

This thief hung on a very real, physical cross for his sins. He violated the civil law in such a way that he earned a death sentence, a horrible, cruel crucifixion. And on this cross, he somehow notices and recognizes our Lord, on His cross. It’s amazing for Dismas to look outside of himself because his insides are experiencing intense pains. He’s been physically tortured, nails driven through his limbs. He’s suffocating to death, as the cross does the terrible job of slowly asphyxiating him. Dismas is very aware, for a long time, that his life is coming to an end.

But, the thief, somehow, while suffering excruciating pain, finds the power to cry out to our Lord, asking for forgiveness. Even in this thief’s great despair, that his life, filled with mistakes, is going to end on a cross, he still asks for divine mercy. 

Of course, when he asks, with a contrite and humble heart, for forgiveness, the great harbinger of hope, Jesus, delivers. In Dismas’ case, his faith in the Son earns him an upfront seat in paradise, where he can ponder the great beauty of love, of Jesus, Heaven itself, for eternity. 

I find this Gospel passage fascinating. 

If I close my eyes and imagine taking the good thief’s place, would I recognize our Lord for who He is? At this point in my spiritual journey, I'd have to say, "Likely not." For me, I do have crosses. But, when asked to bear them, my response is so very weak and flawed.  

So, if I were to take St. Dismas’ place, I would likely be focused on me and me alone. I don’t like suffering. I sometimes get angry that I have to suffer and quickly despair. 

Unlike Dismas, at the moment of suffering, I have great difficulty in embracing it and saying to myself, "OK, so I’m suffering but I trust the Lord will make something good from it." No, my faith is quite weak. When I suffer, all I can really think about is the end of it. I beg, "Lord, take this from me, please!"

So, I am more like the bad thief. He’s on Jesus' other side, opposite of Dismas. He hangs from a similar cross, but his response to our Lord is the opposite of St. Dismas’. Like Dismas, he’s in great pain. But unlike his counterpart, he chooses anger, a lack of accountability for his actions and accosts our Lord with disparaging remarks. He belittles the Lord. He cannot get outside of His pain to realize that all he needs to do is ask our Lord for some help, for forgiveness. So, he is doomed, doomed to hang from his cross all alone, to die a terrible death, both physically and spiritually. Don’t I often relate more often with this man, the unrepentant thief? 

At first, the gift of a cross seems strange and unworldly. That’s because the devil has created a fallen world with valueless values. At some level, with the world as my classroom, I have been taught that what I should value is my very own self, to be selfish. I have been taught to trust big government and bad ideas, like feminism or socialism. Instead of praying, while I am "of and in" the world, I might spend most of my time accumulating goods for temporary comforts or seeking fame. This means I am rarely or never investing time praising God’s holy name. 

In this mindset and state of being, the only name I really praise is my own. Instead of courageously lifting my cross, the devil wants me to be delusional, comfortable and, as it turns out, lacking in Christian virtue. He wants me to run and hide from my crosses. The devil knows that if I choose to run, I become one of the lost sheep. Running means I, most likely, lack fortitude and temperance. This is never a good place for me to be because, outside of the church and the confessional, I, the lonely sheep, am more likely to be devoured by the big bad wolves of sin.  

But let’s say I absorb Jesus and learn from His desert journey. I learn and decide to fast, learn ‘how to’ and decide to pray. I learn about and decide to value the Mass as well, and I go more than once per week. With this learning and action, am I more likely to have a Dismas response to my cross, or will I remain the unrepentant thief? 

St. Dismas, pray for us.

 

DaneBairdDane Baird has been a witness member of the Home of the Mother for over 3 years. He has two daughters, Jean and Susannah. The newest addition to the family is Halo, wonder-dog! His profession is teaching autistic children and he enjoys acting in several parish and diocesan ministries, as well as supporting the Home of the Mother.

His blog is called "Fathers Floreat!" Floreat is a word he heard on retreat, it is latin for to flourish, to bloom. Men should be blossoming according to God's plan.

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